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Vulnerable families disadvantaged by early learning changes

Refugee families and vulnerable children will be most negatively impacted from changes announced by Education Minister Chris Hipkins today.

Following last year’s review of the home based early learning sector, Mr Hipkins today announced that all home based Educators must have at least a level four early childhood qualification, as well as new rules for quality assurance, training and the way services are funded.

PAUA Early Childhood Home Based Care Service director Raewyn Overton-Stuart says while the Government appears to have good intentions in making the changes, it will be children and families who will miss out.

Nationally, more than two thirds (70 per cent) of home based Educators have no formal qualification.

“While some of our Educators are qualified, most are not. Yet they are providing authentic and enriching environments for the children they care for, often instinctively following children’s interests. All of PAUA’s networks are on a three year cycle with the Education Review Office, which show ERO believes we are providing quality outcomes for children.”

Educators are supported by qualified, registered early childhood teachers who help them to document the learning taking place.

“While we value qualifications, they are not the only indicator of quality. Our parents value knowing their child is in a safe, nurturing environment and has a strong relationship with their Educator. They want their whānau tikanga/culture, beliefs, philosophies and routines to be nourished. Many parents choose an Educator within their community, culture or even family, in order for this to happen – these Educators are chosen because of values other than qualifications.”

However, many of these Educators would be unable to gain a Level 4 qualification, due to learning difficulties, language barriers, the time commitment and costs, Ms Overton-Stuart says.

“The Minister states that he expects a number of care situations will revert to ‘informal arrangements’ which means that there will be no educational oversight by a qualified teacher. Reduced availability of culturally responsive, community-based services, is likely to impact New Zealand’s more vulnerable children and families – including those from lower socio-economic areas and ethnicities who are already identified as facing barriers to ECE, including those with English as a second language.

“It will also affect parents ability to choose the early childhood service that best and most appropriately fits their needs, particularly for those who choose an Au Pair, or a family member who gives a grounding in their child’s first language and culture”, Ms Overton-Stuart says.

It could also make it difficult for families in rural or isolated areas, or those who need flexible care hours to access early learning services.

Today’s announcement also signalled a freeze on funding for all “standard” rated home based services (those with some unqualified Educators). Standard services will not receive a 1.6% funding increase on March 1.

It would have been the first cost adjustment for the sector for nearly five years, Ms Overton-Stuart says.

“It’s totally unfair that so many services will miss out, especially as all other sectors in Early Childhood received the increase no matter what they are “rated”. This includes Childcare Centres who are on a probationary licence or on a one or two year ERO cycle due to concerns about their quality. Yet home based services rated higher by ERO will not receive it, despite increasing costs.”

PAUA is a privately owned but not-for-profit service. Government funding is used to employ registered Early Childhood teachers, provide educational resources and support, Playgroups and outings, and ensuring Educators and the education and care provided is compliant with all the Ministry of Education’s regulations.

“These processes are there to ensure children are cared for in safe, nurturing environments. Without Government funding, the cost to parents would increase substantially. For many parents, it would become too expensive.”

“PAUA believes that all children deserve the opportunity to thrive in a quality Early Learning environment that supports their unique identity, language and culture. We will continue to work with Minister Hipkins and the rest of the sector to find a way forward that keeps children at the heart of all we do.”

PAUA Early Childhood Home Based Care Service has been caring for children and their families since 2003. PAUA is an acronym for Preschoolers At-Home Uniquely Achieving.

Our service covers more than 400 children and nearly 200 Educators, plus registered ECE Visiting Teachers and administration staff.

We care for children across 13 networks from Northland to Christchurch, covering rural communities, towns and cities. Our Educators have a diverse range of ethnicities and backgrounds, including qualified ECE teachers who chose to stay at home with their own children while caring for others, grandparents providing care so their children can work, and those from the refugee community who are working together to provide culturally responsive care.

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